ASPEN, Colo. — Employees of the Aspen Skiing Co. are being encouraged to pick up second languages, particularly Spanish and Portuguese, Chinese and Russian.
"If you're from Brazil, and you're dropping your kid off at ski school, you feel a lot better if someone there speaks Portuguese," says Jeff Hanle, spokesman for the Aspen Skiing Co. "As the international business has become more important for us, so has this."
Some employees are allowed to take time out from their normal work chores to study languages using Rosetta Stone language software provided by the company.
Each participating individual has a unique agreement based on the job, time at a computer and other considerations, says Hanle. A typical language-learning program would be six months or a year depending upon previous skill with that language. Employees, their supervisors and the administrator track progress and adjust as needed.
Rental and retail shop crews, ski patrollers and salaried ski instructors are eligible, as is the sales staff. The latter reports setting a goal of 15 to 30 minutes per day, seven days a week, to achieve their goals.
Kristi Kavanagh, the company's director of worldwide sales, said gaining skills in the native tongues of visitors from developing countries, including China, is particularly important. Those first-time tourists will likely return to their home countries and spread the word about their Aspen experience, so it had better be a good one.
"As that market begins to develop, we will look at potentially hiring people with those language skills to begin with, but developing China is in its infancy for us," she told the Daily News. The Chinese are visiting Aspen, if in still small numbers. In spending, however, they easily outpace Americans and Europeans.
Aspen's sales representative in Canada is learning French, the one for Latin American is learning Portuguese, and the one assigned to Eastern Europe is learning Russian.
"Sales people in particular are studying for growth markets," said Hanle. "If we see potential from a new market, be it Iceland, the Middle East, or Timbuktu, we would be open to that language."
How important is the international market to Aspen? It's big, and at one point the company said 20 per cent of its skier days came from outside the United States.
Hanle this time didn't share a statistic. "It is not that simple to put a specific number on this as more international guests book direct and online." But, he said, "without tipping our hand to our competitors, I can say that as global economies develop, and more of their citizens embrace travel and skiing, it will become more important," he told Mountain Town News.
"It is important to remain nimble and be able to stay in front of global economic and travel trends."